A starter home
We purchased our home brand new. It was a “spec home” that was planned and completed by June 2007; just before the “real estate bubble” burst in September 2007. The builder showed the completed home for a full year before he drastically lowered the price, putting it into our price range and we made our move. Since I had 3 months left in my pregnancy with our first baby (The Stinker Relly), we were more than thrilled to be moving into a home that was “move-in ready”.
However! (Never a good indication. I know.) The builder did a lot of corner cutting. A lot. At face value, you see all sorts of cosmetic upgrades, like stainless appliances and granite countertops — which we love. But, over our years here, we’ve gotten the feeling that the upgrades are here to distract from all the craftsmanship failures, like cheap windows, kind of working stainless appliances, walls, face plates, base boards that aren’t plumb, sand-papery carpet, no insulation in the attic… It’s kinda like when you behold a strikingly beautiful woman … only learn she’s really a dude when there’s no makeup or undergarments to trick the eye (boy! That’s a wise word!). We wonder how this place passed inspections! Don’t get me wrong. We’ve loved our home. We’ve also been incredibly disappointed with all the things that were done incorrectly and have taken considerable time to correct many of those details.
And now, the floor story…
After a very short time in our brand new, never-lived-in home, the carpet started looking like it was old. I’m talking, it looked worn and flat and felt itchy when we rolled around on the floor with the kids and not rolling around on the floor with the kids is just not an option round here. And the dust!! We literally blew out the motor in a vacuum cleaner because of the dust from the carpet every time we vacuumed. We were in the house about 6 months when we decided we would replace the carpet. But with what?
Now here was our set of challenges when it came to choosing our new flooring:
• This is not our “lifetime home”. We don’t plan to retire here. Which means every change we make, we must consider how it affects the home’s “sellability”. This steers our design choices away from our own personal preferences and toward something more “neutral” and “average”, appealing to the homebuyers in our town. So no painted or stained concrete or super cool tile or fun designs on the floors.
• Our house is the nicest and newest house on our street (and the 2nd largest square footage). That means, when we do sell this home, we’d be flat out lucky to recoup any costs of any upgrades we will have done. So no real wood or higher-end carpet or cork or bamboo…
• Most of the house has 8ft ceilings. That means we have precious lateral real estate. We couldn’t put in a new floor that was taller than the existing carpet. So there goes wood again.
• We have to agree. This is probably our biggest challenge. Good grief, that one’s tough!!
So, for three years, we searched and talked and researched and thought and came up with nothing. Until one day, I was looking around on Pinterest and found a photo of a “paper bag floor” by Lovely Crafty Home. I was in love. Like, I wanna marry it, in love.
Now, before you go acting like we’re all crazy people, paper flooring is not a new application. In fact, it’s been done for hundreds of years, particularly in France. Think wallpaper on the floor. This particular application is designed to be a faux leather application. It’s been gaining popularity at decor and design shows and, side-by-side to true leather flooring, it’s hard to tell the difference (when the paper’s done well). The difference in price, however, is staggering!
A few other fun facts about our paper floors:
The paper floor is sustainable (a.k.a. eco-friendly), as durable as cork, and insulates better than most carpets.
I pondered it for several days before I showed Mr. Old School because I come up with these crazy ideas and he almost never goes for them. This time, though, he actually liked it! We couldn’t do it right away because I was in the middle of planning a big wedding; which gave us some valuable time to strategize, since we knew we’d have to modify the application process for our needs. The planning and plotting alone took months!
Because of the time commitment per room, we had to be strategic in the order we completed the rooms. We resurfaced the floors of all three bedrooms, the hallway, our living room, and family room. There was a lot of shuffling going on! And because Mr. Old School’s job doesn’t give us weekends (2 sequential days off), we had to grab an hour here and an hour there for the paper-laying part of the process.
The day we cleaned out the kids’ room, our house felt like this:
I’m literally having heart palpitations just looking at this and remembering!
So, without further ado…
Our paper floor
- Polyurethane for wood floors — Get the most expensive stuff you can get your hands on. You absolutely must splurge on this. This will directly affect the quality of your finish & durability of your floor. We used water-based ProFinisher from Rust-Oleum that we purchased from The Home Depot. In total, we used around 18 gallons of the stuff. (we paid $48/gallon when the project started, but the price fell to $42/gallon when we got to our last room. Now, it’s $39/gallon.)
- Lambskin Applicators — we used about 4 of them (approx $4/each on clearance)
- Old Towels — to rub off excess stain (FREE!)
- Old Rags — to rub off excess poly as you lay paper (FREE!)
- Paintbrushes — we just got the cheap brushes from the hardware store that you don’t mind throwing away. We also kept them in a sealed gallon freezer bag in between applications. If you take a 15 minute break and leave the brush exposed, the bristles will be dry and the brush, no good. The poly rusts the metal on the brush, the bristles dry out quickly, so it doesn’t make sense to clean out the brush every time you stop. ($20)
- Brown Kraft Paper — the kind from the hardware store that you use to protect your wood floors during construction. We used about 3 rolls. ($11/each)
- Stain for wood — Again, the more expensive, the better. In our experiments, we found that we love Sherwin Williams products because they have a nice, thick mixture; which gives a really rich finish. Now, a word to the wise here… Sherwin Williams stores have these amazingly super once-a-year sales where pretty much everything is half-ish off. We were able to purchase all the stain we needed and chalkboard paint and a few other supplies for under $100. Normally, a gallon of this stain would run you almost $60.
- Sponge Mop — you never know. Get these kinds of things from a dollar store. They fall apart, so if you’re doing more than one room, you’ll need at least two of them ($6)
- Broom/dust pan — again. Ya never know. (FREE!)
- Vacuum Cleaner (or shop vac) — We found vacuuming (as opposed to sweeping) is much faster & keeps the dust down (FREE!)
- Elmer’s Glue — the gallon version. We didn’t use half of it. ($30)
Here’s your chance to get all your anger and frustrations out. It’s a lot of fun and it goes quickly, so you feel like, “hey! This isn’t so bad! I can totally do this!” (Be sure to remove doors before you start.)
1b) KNOW YOUR FLOOR!
That means know if you’ll be applying your paper to a wood sub-floor or to a cement slab. It’s important to know this because it’ll affect the price (as you’ll use different adhesive material) and process of your project.
2) CLEAN THOROUGHLY!
We learned that vacuuming worked far faster and more effectively than sweeping and there was virtually no kick up of dust into the air that would need to then be swept again … and again. We also mopped 4 times with fresh water every 3 or 4 dips of the mop. Granted, your floor may not be as nasty as ours was. Our contractor didn’t do any basic cleanup before placing carpet, so we lifted the carpet to find dirt, leaves, construction dust, wood shavings… It was ridiculous and it was no wonder we’d had trouble keeping the dust level down and our allergies in check! Now, I cannot stress this enough. In our first room, we were so anxious to get started, we didn’t get all the plaster up off the concrete and it created air bubbles and/or ripped our paper in application. It also made it harder for the edges to adhere.
3) FILL ‘ER UP!
Fill whatever large holes you have in your slab. We found that some holes are no big deal (like the smaller holes from the nails fom the carpet tacks). Other holes (like cracks in the foundation) need to be addressed so more settling doesn’t rip your finished flooring. Furthermore, make sure that whatever holes and/or cracks you fill, you sand more than you think you should. You will absolutely see these in your finished floor! I have forgotten the brand we’ve been using and your subfloor may need a better or lesser product and attention than ours, so ask what would be right for your application at your hardware store. Be sure to read all instructions regarding how long your filler should sit before sanding and/or getting it wet.
4) VACUUM & MOP AGAIN!
After you smooth your “fillings” to match your surface, you will have more dust. This part seriously feels like it’ll never end.
3) RIP, CRUMPLE, SMOOTH, STACK!
We decided to go with the “organized chaos” look, so we randomly ripped our paper (we found we preferred larger the pieces… the fewer the pieces we had to lay down in the room. Ya dig?). This will make your hands tired and you’ll look at your pile and think, “surely this is enough paper”, and it won’t be. But that’s OK. Going back and forth will break up the process to make it a little less monotonous and a little easier on the ole back. Just a little tip here: we would crumple paper together while watching TV. Helped the time go faster and we found that when we weren’t really thinking about it, we crumpled more paper. The kids even enjoyed participating, and it was something we didn’t mind letting them do since you can’t exactly hurt ripped, crumpled paper. 🙂
Another one we can’t stress enough. You have to tape your baseboards and door frames or you WILL muck them up, no matter how careful you are. (Learned this the hard way.) Trust!
APPLICATION (Remember! This is for application directly onto the cement slab):
1) POLYURETHANE! (Use watered down Elmer’s Glue for wood sub-floors)
Poly is your “bonding agent”. Roll it onto your CLEAN slab with a paint roller. Get it in every nook & cranny. Thickness is not the goal here. Coverage is. Let it dry for approx 2 hours.
Paint poly onto the downside of your paper (full coverage) and place it. Make it as smooth as possible. Some suggest using a gentle (softer rubber) straight edge. This is your longest step. It takes a LOOOOONG time (especially when you only lay 2-3 pieces at a time because you have munchkins who keep needing your attention)! I strongly suggest you set one full day aside and don’t do it alone! You should be able to knock out an average-sized bedroom in 8 hours.
**NOTE OF CAUTION: After you smooth your paper down, it WILL bubble up and you WILL think you’ve done it incorrectly. Leave it alone! As it dries, it will flatten back out IF you laid it properly. If it doesn’t go down after drying, pierce the bubble with a razor blade and use a VERY small paint brush or a syringe to get poly in under the bubble. Use a rag to get whatever poly oozes out. Do not let it sit on the paper.
**2ND NOTE OF CAUTION: While this step takes a long time, this is not the step where you should aspire for speed. Aspire to do it right!
Let it sit for TWENTY-FOUR HOURS! You cannot let your watered-down glue and poly mix. No bueno!
Water your glue down to 1 part glue, 3 parts water. Roll it onto your papered surface. Try to get as even a mixture and coat as you can. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!! This is to prevent your stain from fully soaking into your paper. You stain to accentuate the veining in the paper (created by your crumpling). And, let’s face it. If you just wanted solid color, you could’ve saved yourself a LOT of time and money on corrective massages and chiropractic if you’d just used epoxy paint and been done with it. Let this sit for TWENTY-FOUR HOURS! Water-based poly/glue and oil-based stain don’t mix. No bueno again!
This is DEFINITELY a two-person job. One person used the lambskin applicator to “mop” Sherwin Williams stain onto the floor while the other person immediately sopped up the excess with old junk towels. In this step, speed is king. If you don’t do it this way, you’ll have splotches where you overlapped. Let this sit for TWENTY-FOUR HOURS! If you live in a humid climate (like we do) or you’ve had your windows open, you may have to let it cure even longer. Also be sure you absolutely do not walk on this gorgeous boy with bare feet; no matter how dry the stain. The oils in your feet WILL make footprints on the floor and pick up the stain and spread it in the rest of your house (again… another thing we learned the hard way). You want it to be absolutely NOT tacky because again, water-based poly/glue and oil-based stain look really bad when they mix, so make sure they don’t!
5) POLYURETHANE AGAIN!!
This is the most exciting step! You now know what your floor will look like, but you have to put a protective coat over it so you won’t ruin all your hard work. This step is extremely important to do 100% correctly! First, WEAR SOCKS!!!!! The last thing you want is to see your footprints because the oils in your feet rehydrated the oil-based stain. No bueno! We used lambwool applicators for this. Our poly’s manufacturer says no more than 6 coats. The company also instructs to apply no more often than every two hours and no more than 3 coats in 24 hours. You also have to lightly sand in between coats where you’ve waited more than 6 hours to apply. These are vitally important little tips to remember! Most manufacturers don’t publish these instructions on their packaging, including ours. We spent A LOT of time on the phone with these people trying to figure out how to make their product work best for this application in such a highly humid region. Also, keep in mind that each brand is different. We strongly recommend you call the manufacturer of the poly you’re using BEFORE you use it as a top coat.
The other point we must make here is that, if you opt to use a finish less than high gloss, only use it for the TOP TWO COATS. We learned the hard way that using it for all 6 coats creates a milky haze and dulls the richness of the stain’s color. Instead, use high gloss for the first 4 coats (this was a tip from the manufacturer. So helpful, right?!). We also learned that too much humidity in the air will cause a milky haze in your poly, so don’t let your floor dry with the windows open if you live in Florida. We have a few tips for helping you get rid of the haze. Ask us if you come across that problem. 🙂
You’ll most likely have to finish your baseboards with quarter-round to take the baseboard down to the new height of your floor. Just an FYI. We haven’t actually done this part yet, but when we do, I’ll have photos for you.
SOME TIPS WE LEARNED:
1) When applying your poly finishing coats, remove tape around door frames before the poly fully dries! You will have to reapply tape there at each poly coat. It’s a pain, but it means a nice, even finish of poly at those spots where you might potentially have pooling.
2) When you sand, you will expose some paper and rub off the stain. Use a q-tip dipped in your stain to touch up and then continue with the rest of your coats of poly.
The bottom line
Now, we covered approximately 1,100 square feet of floor and we paid approximate $950. You read right. $950
Now, when you look at other versions out there, you’ll see that we spent a bit more for two reasons:
1) We used polyurethane as our bonding agent where the other blogs were able to use super-inexpensive glue. Because of that, we ended up spending up to $200 per room just in poly. We knew that going in and we were fine with that. We also have enough space in our house that we could shuffle from room to room; doing a little bit at a time and paying cash as we went.
2) We opted for a far more expensive, oil-based stain. We did this because when we were doing our tests, we found Sherwin Williams offered colors we could actually agree on and the consistency and thickness of the stain made for a really rich finish.
We love this floor!! It’s original, brightens the house, adds sophistication and charm, and is admired by so many who see it. I bought one of those little $20 stick vacs for quick cleaning and use my steam mop on it. My only problem with it is the scratches we’re starting to see in traffic areas. Granted, we have little kids with lots of toys with plastic wheels … that they RIDE. We kind of expected this and plan to add a layer of poly every two-ish years, as the manufacturer suggested.
We’ve also been asked how well it’s held up and how we’ve addressed gouges and rips. It’s SIMPLE!
I lightly sand the damaged spot, dip a q-tip in our floor’s stain, & touch up the spot. After that dries, I apply a small bit of polyurethane and it’s done! If the damage is too large, you can simply cover the spot with a new patch of paper. Seriously easy!
If you have any questions, we’re thrilled to answer. We probably made every mistake possible, so we feel we’re pretty well-versed in this now. Happy Papering!